After being lucky enough to meet the fantastic Sarah Pinborough at the Post-Apocalyptic Book Club (and slightly falling in love with her), I couldn’t not read The Death House – and I am so glad I did. If it weren’t for the fact that I had already gone through the laborious process of selecting my Top Ten Books of the Year and couldn’t bear to revisit it, The Death House would definitely have been there!
After a blood test, seventeen-year-old Toby was taken from his family and taken to a building which houses other teenagers like him known as ‘Defectives.’ We don’t know much about this mysterious illness, other than that it eventually causes them to become ill. At this point they’re taken to the Sanatorium in the dead of night, from where nobody ever returns. The teenagers all react differently to their fate – some choose to make the best of it, with one boy Ashley setting up a Church, whilst Toby copes by pushing the others away as much as possible, despite having a little camaraderie with the rest of his Dorm, who see him as a leader. At night, he avoids taking his vitamins, which he has deduced are sleeping pills, and enjoys having the house to himself. The story flits between his life in the Death House as they call it, and his life before – the scene in which he is unexpectedly taken from his family is particularly heartbreaking.
Everything changes when Clara arrives. Toby initially dislikes her, seeing her cheerfulness as a refusal to face facts and indicative of her privileged upbringing, and he resents that she too doesn’t take her vitamins, joining him after dark in the house. But gradually, an affection grows between the two of them.
Make no mistake, this book is a tear jerker and a half. As Toby and Clara’s relationship deepens, the others continue to get sick, reminding them – and us – that there is no future for them…they can only live in the now.
This was a fantastic and masterful written novel with echoes of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go – deeply unsettling, devastating and beautifully captures the awkwardness of being a teenager. Highly recommended.
The Death House by Sarah Pinborough is out now in paperback, published by Gollancz. Her next novel 13 Minutes is published 18th February 2016.